Dreaming of packing up and heading off on a road trip for a year? It’s not as easy as you might think!
We first realised we wanted to do the whole road trip around Australia thing – and I mean really wanted to do it – about three years back. We were travelling in Germany and everyone had these super-cool (and often super-sized) camper vans. It just seemed like an incredible way of life. Especially compared to our leaky tent.
With our dream fired up, as soon as we got back to Melbourne, we looked for a VW Kombi and bought the Old Girl from a lovely couple in Geelong. Vehicle? Check.
That was the easy part.
Then, life happened. Mat started and finished his Honours Degree. I built up my copywriting business. We went on lots of awesome trips (including two months hiking the Te Araroa in New Zealand). We ran and ran and ran. And we tried almost every Messina gelato flavour every concocted.
Before we knew it we had just one month before our leaving date: 1st April 2016. Why this day exactly, you ask? Why not choose another more sensible and achievable day? It’s your adventure, after all.
True. But when we picked the date, it made sense. It seemed sensible. It seemed achievable. We were like “yeah, April 1st 2016. That’s when we’ll drive off into the sunset.”
It wasn’t lost on us that it is also April Fools Day.
So, suddenly, we had just one month to pack up our lives. One month. Okay, you might be shrugging and wondering just how much we could really have to do.
‘Lists people’ will love this (you know who you are): we had a big list and a smaller daily to-do list, you know, to make it feel like we were achieving something.
- Fix house
- Rent out house
- Fix kombi
Let me explain. While we were in New Zealand, our apartment had a leak and the kombi broke down. One was not connected to the other (I don’t think).
So to add to the big tasks, we had to get the insurance company to organise the home repairs while simultaneously trying to rent it out, all the time praying that nobody would notice the hole in the ceiling and a slightly damp carpet.
We also had to get the Old Girl fixed. She desperately needed a full service if we could ever hope to take her around Australia. Plus, we’d been advised to get her lifted for a more comfortable ride on bumpy roads. Throw in some new tyres and an emergency repair kit and we’re talking about $1,100 before we hit the road.
These seem really little and insignificant now, but they all needed to be done and they all take time. Here’s a snapshot (it’s by no means the definitive list.)
- Install curtains
- Fix chair
- Buy storage boxes
- Buy hockey straps for roof rack
- Buy tarps and poles for awning and roof rack
- Test solar
- Buy and install bike rack (not as easy as it sounds – try finding a bike rack that fits a 43 year old van!)
- Buy big water container
- Upload maps onto Garmin
- Organise SPOT device
- Buy and test coffee grinder (not as easy as it sounds – try finding something that two Melbourne coffee snobs won’t wrinkle their noses at)
- Buy new running shoes
- Work out what’s coming with us
- Pack everything else
- Organise TAXIBOX
- Bribe brother and dad to help move furniture
- Clean everything
- Redirect mail
- Cancel utilities
- Inform body corporate
You get the gist.
So what did we learn about how to pack up your life in one month?
Here are a few lessons:
- Don’t expect everything to happen in a day
The first thing we wanted to sort out was the building work in the apartment. But our insurance company and builder had very different schedules to ours. Turns out it doesn’t matter what your deadline is, sometimes you have to bend to other people. Especially when insurance claims are involved. In fairness to the builder, he got it finished over the Easter weekend and the apartment looks better than ever.
- Specify the size of the box
The Old Girl is tripling as a home, art studio and office while we’re away. My office comprises a laptop; Mat’s art studio comprises…well…lots of art supplies! Knowing Mat’s inclination to collect things (aka hoarding), I gave him some limitations. He could have one box for all the art supplies he needs to get started, and store his paper under the mattress. So what does Mat do? He goes and buys the biggest plastic tub you can imagine, then fills it to bursting with as many art supplies as you can think of. Lesson learnt!
- Remember you can still do things on the road.
There’s something about preparing for an adventure that makes you want to try and see as many friends and family as possible before we left. And stock up on everything we might possibly need in a year. But after coming close to breaking point, we realised we can still do things on the road. Like call or Skype people. And shop for groceries.
- Test everything once before you hit the road
We didn’t do this. Granted, we were lucky and the bike rack and solar were a dream. But the roof rack hadn’t been used since we bought the kombi. The day came to load her up and we couldn’t find the right Allen key for the roof rack. We ended up throwing the whole thing with its contents into the van, driving to my parents and sorting it out there. Turns out we did have the right Allen key all along, we just weren’t looking in the right place 😉
- Employ the Three Pile Packing System early
Set up three piles: Yes, No, Maybe. Then put things into each pile: the stuff you know you need, the stuff you definitely won’t need, and the stuff you will probably don’t need but need time to come to terms with that fact. This tip came from our good friend and fellow traveller Erwin, who is currently cycling around Australia. And it really works.
The good news? We did it all in a month… and we’re on the road.
Stay tuned for stories of our first week! And check out #vanlife recipes from van-chef Mat.